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The Green Life: Is Our Noise Stressing Out the Animals?

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October 06, 2010

Is Our Noise Stressing Out the Animals?

Alaskan wildlife
The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness areas as pristine places that offer "outstanding opportunities for solitude." But in Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, solitude is becoming harder to find.

According to John Morton, the refuge's supervisory wildlife biologist, noises made by snowmobiles, low-flying aircraft, and cars are spreading deeper into the 1.3 million acres of congressionally designated wilderness.

"At this point, I've got an idea that up to 40% of Kenai's wilderness could be affected by human-made noise," Morton says.

Biologists fear that the animals are becoming so affected by the noise that they are being forced to move from their preferred habitats. Tim Mullet, a biological technician, plans to collect moose feces and test it for glucocorticoids, hormones that are indicators of animal stress, as part of a two-year study of Kenai Refuge noise levels. He hopes to find out whether exposure to human-made noise causes stress.

Mullet says we should all aim to be more aware of how our sounds influence the natural landscape, because conserving the "soundscape" is imperative to wildlife.

"Taking a moment to listen to your environment may bring to light a new impression of what defines your surroundings and how you play a part," he wrote in the refuge's notebook. "So, perhaps next time you are out and about, instead of stopping to smell the roses, stop to hear the decibels."

--Molly Oleson

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